Photo by Mark Swink
Somewhere in a canyon on the 150 south and east of Salt Lake City, Utah, Jessica Hagget is riding her Harley Dyna Low Rider. She continues up into Evanston, Wyoming, then eventually ends up on I-84 heading west. One hundred and fifty miles later, she’s back home. Does she think about what life was like before she decided to let motorcycles become more than a hobby? Before there was rubber and wind and the faint smell of oil? Probably not.
This is not a woman who looks back – what’s the point? When your obsessed with making the thing in front of you work, there is no past, only today and the next. And the next, so far, looks pretty good for Jessica Hagget.
Photo from Jessica’s Instagram
A couple of years ago she got an idea and went for it. That idea was to create a women’s riding group and she called it The Litas. None of it was planned, there was just the idea. The right turn down a road called ‘what if.’ Here’s how it started.
“I was going to the University of Utah, and I saw this girl ride through campus on a little black motorcycle. She was about my size and had this great looking leather backpack. I thought that looked really cool. I didn’t run out and buy a bike right away, but I did buy the backpack. A couple of years later, I was driving home from Montana with my family, and the idea just me. I announced to everyone, ‘I’m going to get a motorcycle.’”
Unlike a lot of men and women who ride today, Jessica didn’t find herself obsessed with or even interested in motorcycles because a dad, brother or older sibling got her on one at an early age. Her first experience was a quick ride on her older brother’s dirt bike, but that didn’t leave much of an impression or trigger any desire to get one. And her second ride was fairly terrifying for her.
“I went on a ride with a guy when I was 18 and I was pretty scared. I was thinking that this was crazy. Is it safe? What am I getting myself into?”
Jessica admits to not being a risk taker, and she also likes a certain degree of personal comfort. Both of which obviously go out the window when you agree to get on a bike and ride with someone or throw your leg over a scoot and call it your own. Or you get the bright idea to start a motorcycle group targeting women riders.
It’s a good thing that sketchy ride when she was 18 didn’t deter her from a life with motorcycles, otherwise The Litas wouldn’t exist, and the thousands of women in 138 branches around the globe would be on their own or inclined to join a group that may be far less inclusive.
But it seems that just as Jessica likes comfort and a fairly risk free life, she said that she and her family share a common trait that probably counters all of that – once they get hold of an idea they won’t let go. And so it went with Jessica who was so intent on getting a bike once she made the announcement to her family that she got one that she soon realized was too small and not really what she imagined or wanted.
It was a Honda Rebel 250, not exactly the stuff of motorcycle legends, but a worthy start to an obsession. Even if a bit misdirected.
Jessica quickly caught on to the fact the little rebel was neither fast or really very rebellious, so she upped the ante and got a ’92 Yamaha XS400. Bigger, but not necessarily better. Luckily, two brothers in Salt Lake City, Seth and Jason “Rev” Clark of Salt City Builds, helped keep it running long enough for Jessica to realize that owning a newer bike was probably a better idea.
So she got rid of the 400 and bought a 2001 Harley Davidson Sportster, but found that it too had its issues. Some of which might be familiar to other Harley owners and the haters out there.
“It started leaking oil, and it was exhausting to ride in the wind. So I started renting Dyna Low Riders. When I first got on one and pulled on the throttle, I went ‘Oh my gosh. Holy shit this has a lot of power.’ It just was so fun.”
So much fun, in fact, that she now owns one – a Dyna Low Rider S.
Photo by Mark Swink
Which gets us back to The Litas. Turns out, it was a good idea a long time in the making.
“A friend of mine, Paige Macy, and I were at a bar and we were joking about starting a biker gang. Nothing came of it then, but a couple of years later I started seeing all of these groups of women riders, and I thought ‘I don’t have any girls to ride with, and that looks like fun. If they have this in all of these cities, why not start one in Salt Lake City.'”
So down the path Jessica went with the idea of starting The Litas in Salt Lake City.
“It’s funny, it was Thanksgiving of 2014 and I had just broken up with my boyfriend. I was staying at my parents’ house and thought, I’m just going to do it. I spent all of the time I probably should have been with my family working on the idea. I started an Instagram account, thought of the name, developed the logo. I spent most of the weekend getting it together.”
The name for The Litas was a bit of a fluke. It was associated with her friend Paige, and it just seemed to fit for the group as she had imagined it would be.
Photo by Jun Song
Within a few months, Jessica had 50 women who belonged to The Litas original Salt Lake City branch. Born of a desire to create a network of girls that shared a common interest in motorcycles, Jessica thought the idea had wings, or maybe horns…or at least a life beyond Salt Lake.
“I’m a total entrepreneur at heart, and I thought it would be fun to have these other groups of The Litas in other cities. But I hadn’t really done anything with that idea. So one day I decided to post something on Instagram – ‘Hey who wants to start another branch in another city.’ I got, like, 300 comments. I went, ‘Oh shit, this is crazy.’ I had zero expectations, but realized I needed to do this.”
Jessica started working to expand The Litas and open it up to different cities around the U.S. Soon she was getting requests to start branches (notice she’s not called them chapters) from other countries. And it started to become a full-time job…along with her paying full-time job.
Faced with the possibility that the two could eventually collide, she used her experience in operations to set up the growing networks of The Litas branches so that each one had its own founder. Late last year, she took it a step further and quit her full-time job heading operations for a startup so she could focus on growing The Litas.
Considering the short time it took to get her to this point, this is all quite remarkable. Experts in marketing, sociology and community building get paid big bucks to try to figure this out for all kinds of businesses and organizations how to make this happen. And failure is often as certain as success. Jessica has done it on her own and hit on a combination that seems to have validated her philosophy that when you have an idea go for it – even if it takes a while.
Photo by Aaron Brimhall
“When you think about it, I started expanding into other cities in 2015 and now we’re in 100. I think there are really two reasons why The Litas has been successful. It’s not like a traditional motorcycle club. I didn’t know anything about that scene, so I just formed it the way I thought it should be. And there’s no barrier to entry. It’s free to join, all you need is a motorcycle, and you can just come hang with us.”
Since some motorcycle clubs seem to have more rules and stipulations than the authority they seem to want to flaunt, it’s not hard to see how The Litas have succeeded. Especially with women, who may be initially intimidated by motorcycles and have some preconceived ideas as to what a motorcycle group is like.
While Jessica has gotten much of the spotlight for founding The Litas and even for what some are calling its influence on women in motorcycles, she admits to not being one who is comfortable with the attention.
Photo by Tyson Call
But she’s got it, regardless, and the future of The Litas is still in her hands. So where would she like to see it go from here?
“I guess right now is the beginning of the growth phase. I just want it to continue to grow and to continue connecting women who like to ride.”
Many people who pursue and live an obsession, can also have no thought as to what they’d do if they didn’t have that in their life. Some might say that kind of single focus is what makes certain ideas and people successful. Others might call it unbalanced. Jessica comes across as neither, and has a ready answer to the question – what would you do if you didn’t have motorcycles in your life?
“It’s funny, because I’ve made motorcycles my entire life — whether for fun or my job. But if that went away, I’d probably get back into the startup world. At one point, I worked with an accelerator that helped launch startups. I liked the energy and the passion there.”
Energy and passion. Two characteristics Jessica seems to have plenty of. So much so, it’s hard to believe she’ll ever have to make a choice between The Litas and some other idea that doesn’t involve motorcycles. If it does, it may well be one that comes to her as she’s riding in a canyon somewhere on the 150 heading up to Evanston, Wyoming.